Drake students cleaning up trash on the Great Beach at Point Reyes

Marine Plastic Debris & Tsunami Debris Project

Drake High is a NOAA Ocean Guardian School.  Watch us at work. These videos were submitted to the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival’s 3rd Annual Student Film Competition:
Who doesn’t like beachcombing?  Drake High does regular patrols of Point Reyes Beach collecting, counting, weighing and photographing plastic debris and the species of marine organisms that stick to it.  We categorize it according to type and origin (recreational, commercial fishing, from foreign ships, from Japan, etc.) and the marine life according to whether it is Japanese, open ocean or Californian.  We compare our results to data previously obtained on California Coastal Cleanup Day.
Room 414 tsunami trash

The Great Beach at Point Reyes is not like other beaches. This ten-mile stretch of sand faces northwest, directly into the prevailing westerlies and the California current. Rocky points bracket it at each end.  Most of the items that wash up here are not local.  Some are from thousands of miles away.  Almost every object tells a story.  We’ve barely begun, but here are some of the kinds of items we find:

Fishing and crabbing gear from Japan, China, Oregon and Northern California, beverage bottles and food containers labeled for domestic consumption in China, Japan, Korea, India (these are most likely tossed overboard by the crews of international ships), ball point pens with the names and logos of local businesses, a political campaign sign, large light bulbs from ships, children’s shoes. You can estimate how long an object has been floating by the size of the pelagic barnacles on it. Japanese tsunami debris has already started to arrive in Oregon.

Focus Questions:
  • How much of the debris on Point Reyes Beach comes from international shipping, local fishermen, beach goers, the tsunami, Oregon and Washington, etc?
  • When will our share of the the Japanese tsunami debris finally start to arrive?
  • What categories of (high-floating?) tsunami debris objects will arrive first?
  • What can we learn from the marine organisms (barnacles, etc.) that encrust the debris?
Debris collected on Point Reyes Beach
Sir Francis Drake High School
Description Number of Items / bags Total Weight (pounds) Identifying numbers, marks, corporate brands, languages
5 gallon motor oil bucket; oil bottle 2 11 Chevron
crab pot buoys + rope 45 117
large foam pieces 16 28
bags of foam pieces 9 13
bags of plastic water bottles 8 19 Crystal Geyser, Gatorade
bags of misc. plastic 4 24 Lays, Cheetos, Kraft
bags of aluminum cans 3 4.7 Coke, Coors
bags of glass bottles 6 77 Budweiser, Seagrams
bags of crab bait boxes 2 10
bag of cleaning bottles 1 1.6 Clorox, Dawn
bags of shoes and hats 2 20 Stride Rite
bags of wood, paper, misc. trash 4 22
large net floats 7 33 Chinese, Japanese
automobile tires 2 55
bow of small boat/ boat parts 3 59 CF 2589 HW
misc. plastic pieces 42 85 Rubbermaid
tools, plastic buckets 6 2.9 Durabeam
steel propane bottles/ scrap metal 3 4.5 Coleman
political sign 1 0.2 Sally Lieber for Senate
Plastic bottle caps hundreds 4 Coke, Minute Maid
light bulbs 7 1.5 General Electric
metal spray cans 4 2
mylar balloons 31 1
plastic toys 44 2.2 Mattel
pens 16 0.1 Bic
oyster farming spacers 45 1
chewing tobacco tins 14 0.5 Copenhagen
shotgun shell casings 177 1
balls; mostly tennis balls 25 3 Penn
spoons and forks 15 0.2
drinking straws 113 0.2
medicinal, dental, personal care 45 1.3 Cortizone
tampon applicators 8 0.1
cigarette lighters 21 0.6 Bic
small net floats 14 1.5
sport fishing gear 23 7.8
duck decoy 1 1
water bottles from Asia 26 2 China, Japan, India, Malaysia
TOTAL WEIGHT (pounds) 617.9

Author | Teacher | Scientist